Jenny Sampirisi Unpacks her Poetic Fascination with Warped Bodies, Amphibian and Human

Coach House poet Jenny Sampirisi talks to the Fader Paper Project's Braydon Beaulieu about the ideas (some theoretical, some critical, some whimsical) that underlie her new poetry collection, Croak. The work is a slightly grotesque, slightly fantastic girl-meets-frog dialogue that is nevertheless grounded in contemporary gender politics and in anxieties over the state of the natural world. Frogs, for Samprisi, are intriguing poetic subjects because their bodies are markers of environmental degradation, and because they have been immortalized in popular culture as symbols of sexual "degradation" too:

Braydon Beaulieu: Tell us a bit about your upcoming poetry collection from Coach House Books, Croak. Like, why frogs?

Jenny Sampirisi: Oh yes, the frogs, the frogs! I have many reasons for writing about them. First, I suppose I’ll tell you a bit about what the heck this book is. Croak deals with a crisis, or rather a few crises that I felt were already present for myself and others. Namely the environmental crisis, and a gender crisis that I’ve seen evolve over time. It started out as a chapbook called "Hush" that I wrote many years ago. I was working primarily with visual poetry at the time and I was excited by the idea that a comma looked like a tadpole. I started writing "Hush" with the idea that all the "o"s in the text would be replaced by commas, as though an egg had cracked open in the middle of a word. The only review I ever had of it called it "an abuse of punctuation."

BB: Croak contains very kinetic poetry, from girls doing ballet to frogs surviving with missing legs. There is a very strong focus on the body, which seems to be consistent throughout your writing. One of the things I enjoyed the most about your novel, is/was (Insomniac, 2008), was the way my own body reacted to characters' pain and discomfort. My stomach aches when Eva describes the pain in her abdomen when she gets out of bed. Why is it important to focus on the body in your writing?

JS: You’ve nailed it (and how flattering that your male abdomen would sympathize with a lost womb!). I think this happens all the time. When I read a book where a character does something, a gesture out of the ordinary say, I often find myself "trying it out". I move my body in the way that the characters do. The writing I love most forces me to inhabit another body and to try out those mannerisms. With Croak, I wondered how we might "feel" a body with more limbs or less. The body for me is so fascinating as a textual presence. Think about your last trip to the doctor. Before the doctor even examines you, she’ll ask "So what’s going on" and you attempt to the best of your linguistic ability to describe what your body feels. Yet you might fail to describe your ailment in the right way. The doctor might prescribe something different depending on what you say and how you construct your body in language. That’s what both is/was and Croak are obsessed with. The disconnect between the body in language and the physical body.

To read the full interview, click here.

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